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Who is really at the wheel?

Local authorities remain cautious about how much London's new Mayor will be able to improve transport in the capital.

Most local authorities in London welcome the creation of the Greater London Authority and believe it is the only way in which London's chronic transport problems can be solved. They remain cautious, however, about how the relationship between the GLA and the boroughs will work.

The GLA is expected to come into being next year when enabling legislation receives Royal Assent. Its creation will coincide with the establishment of an elected assembly headed by a mayor.

The GLA will have strategic powers over most aspects of transport in the capital with the exception of main line railways, where the Mayor will have only guiding powers.

Under the new structure local authorities will be responsible only for the upkeep of non-strategic roads. Running of the capital's strategic roads, bus services, river buses and eventually the London Underground will be the responsibility of the Mayor's new body, Transport for London.

John Sanderson, the principal transport planner for the London Planning Advisory Committee - a body set up following the abolition of the Greater London Council to take an overview of transport in London - believes there will inevitably be conflicts of interest between the GLA and the boroughs.

'Where there are two highway authorities that is always going to happen,' he says.

One example where problems may occur is at junctions of strategic roads and non-strategic roads. Borough engineers will have to seek permission for works on their road from TfL because they may impede the flow of traffic on the strategic route. Conversely the boroughs will have no power over the planning of works on strategic roads which could have a negative impact on local traffic.

There is also concern about the size of the Mayor's budget. Exactly how transport policy will be handed down to the boroughs will depend on the politics of whoever is elected Mayor.

The Corporation of London feels London's status as one of the world's major international financial centres could be thrown into question unless there are rapid transport improvements.

'In the face of competition from New York and Frankfurt, transport is the one area where we fall down,' says Corporation leader Judith Mayhew.

Ahead of the rest of England, the mayor will be able to charge tolls on the most congested roads and impose workplace parking levies in central London

once the GLA bill has been passed.

Mayhew believes that to make an impact the mayor will have to use both these financial tools to generate revenue streams which can be channelled into transport, no matter how politically unacceptable they appear.

Potential mayoral candidates at both ends of the political spectrum are beginning to accept this. Former Conservative transport minister Steven Norris has advocated road user charging in London for some time. He also believes the parking levy should be extended to include public off-street spaces.

'It would be ridiculous to tax work spaces but allow people to drive into London and still park relatively cheaply in public car parks,' he says.

More surprising is that left-winger and former GLC leader Ken Livingstone, who is fighting to be allowed to run as the Labour Party candidate, is in favour of congestion charging at '£5 to £7.50 a day for the area inside the Tube's Circle Line'. He sees this as a necessary revenue-raiser to fund projects like the shelved CrossRail link between Paddington and Liverpool Street.

'Clearly Gordon Brown isn't going to put massive new resources into London unless London is prepared to put some money in itself,' he says.

However, Mayhew claims the revenue from congestion charging and parking levies will be too little on its own and too slow in coming to change things quickly. She believes this regular long-term revenue stream would be put to best use to guarantee a bond which would provide the instant capital required for transport improvements.

This mechanism has been used successfully in other major world cities but is not currently possible in England under public sector borrowing regulations defined by the Treasury.

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